Chiang Wen-Yeh

A chronology

1. Early Childhood and Youth in Taiwan and Xiamen (1910-1923)






Grandparents emigrated from China to Taiwan.



China (during Qing Dynasty) lost Taiwan as result of Sino-Japanese War.



Chiang Wen-Yeh was born on June 11th, 1910 in Da Dao Cheng, west side of Taipei City, Taiwan.



The Chiang family moved to the city of Xiamen in Fujian Province, China.  At that time, Xiamen was a major port city with prosperous trading business with other countries. He studied Japanese for five years at the Xuying Institute for people of Taiwanese descent.

2. Education, Fame in Tokyo, Japan (1923-1937)



Wen-Yeh went to Japan for further education.



He entered Tokyo's Wuchang Technological Institute's Electrical Engineering Department; at the same time, he also studied music at the Ueno Music Institute. He was a baritone.



He started to learn composing from famous Japanese composer, Kosaku Yamada. He was hired by the famous Tengyuanjiangyi Opera Company. At the same time, he was a singer for the Columbia Record Company.



He visited Taiwan with other Taiwanese musician in from Japan as “Homeland Visit Music Team". His solo performance was very successful. The jade green waters of the padi fields, the snow-white cormorants, beautiful scenery, and the pure and simple folk songs, all left an indelible mark on his; this had a far-reaching impact on his musical creations.
Chiang Wen-Yeh started to study with the famous Russian composer Tcherepnin (1899-1977) for more than one year.



In the contiguous years from 1934 to 1937, he won prizes all four years at the Japan
National Music Competitions. His works included: symphonic works "Dreams of the White Comorant"  "Symphonic Suite on the Forward Theme”, choral work "Sounds of the Tide", symphonic work "Prelude to a Fugue" and "Folk Tales Etude for Symphony"…etc. His extreme talent took the compositional world in Japan by storm.



His symphonic piece "Tanz Formosa" earned a special prize at the eleventh Olympic International Music Competition held in Berlin. He was consider as a Japanese composer.



His piano suite "Impromptus" won a prize at the Fourth International Music Festival held in Venice.

3. Settling in Beijing(1938-1949)



He went to China to take up the position of department head at the Beiping Teacher's Institute. He once told a friend, was: "I yearned for the Chinese culture. This was why I went to Beijing. Beijing is the Paris of the east, she will incite my creativity, yet I can still publish all my works in Tokyo."



Dance Opera “Xiang Fei” was performed in Beijing



He got the second prize of movie song composing competition held by “ton-bao” film company



He had solo concert in Peking. Japan lost WWII and also gave back Taiwan. Right after that, he got caught by police for “composing songs for Japanese” and was imprisoned for 10 months.



Teaching in BeijingNational Art School as a music professor.



His work “Song for Native Taiwanese” was performed in Peking.

4. Middle and Late Years in Beijing(1949-1983)



He become a professor for composing for Central Music Institute



In the "Anti-Rightist" movement, Chiang Wen-Yeh was wrongly accused as a "Rightist Element", he was relieved of his professorial duties and his salary decreased amongst other things.



During the ten-year turmoil of the "Cultural Revolution", Chiang Wne-Yeh suffered severe blows to his body and spirit. What pained him the most was that his valuable scores, records, letters and two boxes of handwritten scores were all confiscated. In the beginning of the 1970s, while working on the farms with the other conservatory professors and students, due to the emotional battering and overwork, he vomited blood, his body clearly weakening and aging.

During this period, Chiang Wne-Yeh started to secretly organize his arrangements of one hundred Taiwanese folksongs, arrangements for piano or a small band, breeding new artistic life to these simple and ancient folksongs.



In 1976, the "Gang of Four" was exposed, marking the end of the "Cultural Revolution". He once again began to compose music, continuing to organize and arrange Taiwanese folksongs.



He regained his teaching position.



Symphonic poem “Tanz Formosa” was published in Peking.



He got stroke and passed away on October 24th.

Piano Performance: “Tanz Formosa” which earned him a special prize at the eleventh Olympic International Music Competition held in Berlin. Chiang Wne-Yeh was considered as a “Japanese” composer.

He had written a romantic Japanese poem on the first page of his main score:
I see the severe pagoda,
I see the beautiful temple.
I also see the shrine of the ancestors and the ancient stage,
hidden in the mountains and trees.
But, these have disappeared into nothingness;
she has been transformed into a spirit,
in touch with the midnight skies.
God's love for the son of man contained in the essence of one life
like the towering city of the sea
emerges from the quiet night. Ah! IOn the beach of the ebbing tides, I
only see the remaining two or three foam bubble shadows... (Jinxu Journal)


The Life of Chiang Wen-Yeh
- Songs of a Taiwanese Musician in early the Twentieth Century

Chiang Wen-Yeh was the first Taiwanese to receive recognition in the Olympic competition as well as the first Asian musician to win international music awards. His musical creations revealed how the land of Taiwan had inspired this musician, His life told the tale of the lives of the privileged in Taiwan, but also the sad turmoil Taiwan suffered from the changing governments in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Born in 1919 in Da Do Cheng, a prosperous and culturally rich part of Taipei, Taiwan, Chiang was raised in a wealthy Chiang family from a line of academic elites, which nurtured Chiang Wen-Yeh and laid his artistic talents and cultural

upbringing.Traditional folklore and songs from the local church choir enriched his musical life as well.

Chiang’s family followed the tradition of the well-to-do elites at the time, and moved to the coastal city of Xiamen in Fujian province in China after Taiwan was colonized by Japan to expand their family business in trading. The population of Taiwanese here was close to 10,000, nearly one tenth of the total population there. In Xiamen they enjoyed special privileges as colonists of Japan, such as exclusive Taiwanese-only schools. With growing success, the Chiang mansion in Fujian became a popular location where cultural elites and successful merchants gathered and socialized regularly. Wen-Yeh was exposed to the culture riches from a young age. He was not only fluent in several Hokien dialects, but also well versed in Japanese. Families and friends liked to call him “young poet.”

Due to some interaction with the foreigners in the nearby area, Wen-Yeh learned about the western civilization for the first time and started to explore sciences in astrology, mathematics, and other sciences. Furthermore, he learned about the fascinating instruments in the music world.

In 1923, Wen-Yeh and his brothers went to Japan to receive secondary education. One summer, he returned as an intern to work in Taiwan. During this time, he took the time to visit different parts of the island to learn the traditional music from north to south of Taiwan. He even went up to the top of Mt. Jade to have a feel of the aboriginal music and dance. The knowledge and memories of these trips provide deep meaning for him. At the age of 24, he composed his first piano composition “The Night in the City”. 50 years later, he composed the song “The Song of Mountain A-Li”..

Instead of studying in industrial production to help out in the family business, Wen-Yeh went against father’s will to pursue his love for music and performing arts. As the result, he was cut off by his family financially. From then on, he started to take roles in the local music scene, such as the baritone at the theater and the neighborhood restaurants and salons. At this time, he started to study piano and composing as well as music pedagogy. .

As Wen-Yeh became more involved in the music circle and was moderately well-known. He was also with the Taiwanese musical groups and continued to compose music about the Taiwan spirit, including the well-known “Tanz Formosa.”
In 1936, the Olympic games took place in Berlin. Following the Greek tradition, the games included categories in painting, poetry, sculpture, and musical composition.

Wen-yeh’s second composition “Dreams of the White Comorant” was nominated and received special recognition (equivalent of 4th place) at the competition. The song portrayed the plantation sceneries of Taiwan, singing out his deep love for his country land. Unfortunately, despite his accomplishment, Wen-Yeh was scorn by the music circle as a mere colonist, but his true talent prevailed. He later studied with Russian musician Alexander Tcherepnin and learned more musical styles from Europe. His creative directions became more diversified, and his piano suite "Impromptus"later received composer award by the Fourth Annual Vienna Music Festival. This established his status as an internationally acclaimed musician.

In 1936, Wen-Yeh went to Beijing and Shanghai for the first time. The beautiful landscape, architecture of palaces, temples, courtyard, gardens, the rich culture and arts of China impacted him greatly. The connection to the land where he spent his childhood years, plus the discrimination he faced as a second-class colonist in Japan despite his fame lured him to China even more. He later accepted a teaching post in Beijing.

For a patriotic musician who drew a lot of inspiration from the land he loved, We-Yeh would never imagine his work would get him in political trouble. The patriotic songs he composed for a citizen’s group and a movie were viewed by Nationalist Chinese Government as anti-establishment; consequently, he was imprisoned for 10 months.
After discharge from the prison, he became involved in composing gospel music in Chinese style. It was the end of World War II, everything was all ruined, let along publishing industry. Wen-Yeh and his wife made chops of the music and lyric and printed each sheet by hand. His works were passed on to Nanking, Shanghai, Xiamen, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Apart from “Tanz Formosa”, these works became the only ones he wrote to be heard in Taiwan in the later 40 years because he was labeled “communist” by the Nationalist government, and under the Martial Law invoked in Taiwan, all information about communism was prohibited in Taiwan.

In 1949, Communist overtook China. Wen-Yeh assumed the situation was only temporary, and decided to stay in China to continue his musical creation.

Surprisingly, even though Wen-Yeh was labeled “left-winged communist” by the Nationalist government, Communist government viewed him as “right-winged” and punished him and his family during the Cultural Revolution. His musical collections and works were all confiscated. He and his family’s hair were all cut off and they were banned from Beijing.

Faced with such turbulent life, Wen-Yeh became more nostalgic toward his homeland Taiwan. He compiled his works on Taiwan that exceeded one hundred songs and rearranged them under a pseudo name. He also remade “Taiwanese Aborigine Song”. After the Cultural Revolution ended, Wen-Yeh reclaimed his innocence. He started to compose the string composition for “The Songs on Mountain A-Li”, but was not able to complete the music due to ailing health.

In 1981, several academic papers were published on the subject of Chiang Wen-Yeh. All of a sudden, the name that had disappeared in Taiwan over the past three decades came back. In 1987, Martial Law ended, his works were published once again.

In June of 1992, Taipei County Culture Center held a special week in commemorative of Chiang Wen-Yeh and recognition of his contribution to the music of Taiwan. The organizers published his work and invited scholars from Taiwan and China to explore his music. And for the first time, Wen-Yeh’s two wives met together to remember their beloved husband.

The above article is compiled and translated by Susan Chen, based on the original documents written by Ms. Mei-Lian Liu. For permission to reuse or reproduce this information, please contact the author.

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